Monday, 3 June 2013

Why supporting Lord Dear's amendment could be a disaster for the CofE

Bishop Alan Wilson has published an analysis of the constitutional implications of bishops supporting Lord Dear’s fatal amendment under the title Perils of the Aristocracy: A Political Scientist Writes…

The political scientist in question is Dr Iain McLean, Professor of Politics at Oxford University, Fellow of Nuffield College, and Vice President for Public Policy of the British Academy.

His analysis is reproduced in full below the fold.

Meanwhile, the parliamentary advisers to the bishops who tweet at @churchstate have denied that any advice to abstain etc. has been issued to bishops as described by John Bingham in the Telegraph.

There are reports that the Lords Spiritual, or some of them, will support Lord Dear’s “fatal motion” to deny the Bill a second reading. This would be disastrous to the mission of the Church of England. The Bishop of Leicester, as Convener of the Lords Spiritual, should do all in his power to ensure that at least a majority of the bishops present do not support the fatal motion.

The Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Tim Stevens, who has led the bishops in the House of Lords on the issue, said: “We clearly cannot support the Bill because it is contrary to the Church’s historic teaching on the nature of marriage.” He said, however, that he would want to recognise “that the Government has done a great deal to accommodate some of the Church’s concerns, and to make it clear that individual clergy cannot be proceeded against by anybody”. “Hard work” had been done “to ensure that the Canons of the Church of England will not contravene the civil law of England”…. Bishop Stevens said that the House did not traditionally take a vote at this stage, but that this might happen. Individual bishops would then have to decide how to vote (Church Times 24.05.13)

The Bishops of Leicester and Chester have put their names down to speak in the debate, as have Lord Carey of Clifton and Lord Harries of Pentregarth.

Six reasons why supporting the fatal motion would be disastrous for the C of E’s mission.

  • The core proposal is to allow same-sex civil marriage. The elected house of Parliament supports this by a majority of 2 to 1. The people support it by a stable majority. Although religious people are less supportive than non-religious people, Anglicans are close to evenly divided. The unelected house needs to move very cautiously in the face of these figures. The statutory regime for civil marriage in England & Wales was created in 1753 and has been changed numerous times, with civil divorce being permitted since 1857. The civil marriage regime is not a creature of canon law, despite a recent mistaken claim by the Archbishop of York.
  • Success of the fatal motion would violate the religious freedom of those who in conscience wish to solemnize same-sex weddings: currently the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Unitarians, Liberal Judaism and Reform Judaism. All of these have suffered from religious discrimination in the past. British Quakers came to unity in 2009 in support of same-sex marriage in Meetings according to the usage of Friends. The Quaker method relies on discernment of the inner Light, not on majority rule. If there is not unity as to the leadings of the Light, Quakers do not take a position. Their position on this matter should therefore be given considerable deference. An explanation of the Quaker theology behind it is here.
  • As the bishop of Leicester’s reported remarks acknowledge, the Government has put very substantial protections in place for the religious freedom of those whose conscience does not permit them to approve of or take part in same-sex religious weddings. If the fatal motion succeeds, the Lords Spiritual will have no further opportunity to improve the protection of conscientious objectors because the bill will be enacted under the Parliament Act without Lords’ consent (see below).
  • The Church of England often states that the role of the Lords Spiritual is to provide a religious perspective on current moral issues. But on this subject religious opinion is divided. See above; also the from the Bishop of Salisbury to Lord Alli. When religious opinion is divided, the only proper course for a religious representative in the legislature is to plead for freedom of conscience. That must mean, equally, the freedom of Quakers to conduct same-sex marriages, and the freedom of Anglicans to refuse to conduct them.
  • Opposition to the will of the Commons (on this matter, and on the matter of women bishops) imperils the future right of bishops to sit in the legislature. If the bishops, or their convener, support the Dear motion, it is extremely likely that a proposal to remove them from the legislature will be in both the Labour and the Liberal Democrat General Election manifestos for 2015.
  • If carried, the Dear motion will lead only to the Commons’ use of the Parliament Act 1949 to pass the Bill without Lords’ consent. Even if the Prime Minister does not want to invoke the Parliament Act, there is a sufficient majority in the Commons to ensure that it will be invoked if needed. The Lords Spiritual should consider what happened in 1832 and in 1911.
Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Monday, 3 June 2013 at 8:11am BST | TrackBack
You can make a Permalink to this if you like
Categorised as: Church of England | equality legislation

The C of E could do with a few disasters to wake it up

Sleek bishops without martyrdom !

Come back Henry V111.

He'd know how to sort Canterbury and the bishops out....

Posted by: Laurence on Monday, 3 June 2013 at 10:36am BST

We are in the House of Lords for the two days.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Monday, 3 June 2013 at 1:15pm BST

Can someone flesh out the reference to 1832 and 1911?

Posted by: Malcolm French+ on Monday, 3 June 2013 at 1:57pm BST

Oh, Dear. [Thank you, Bp Wilson & Dr McLean]

Posted by: JCF on Monday, 3 June 2013 at 8:11pm BST

The reference to 1832 is presumably the Great Reform Act, which was finally passed after William IV threatened to create enough peers to force it through over the heads of the rejectionist Lords.

1911 is the Parliament Act, where again the monarch, this time George V, threatened to create sufficient peers to overcome the obstructionists.

Each event fundamentally changed, and diminished, the role of the House of Lords. It's almost certain that if the CofE bishops get involved in rejectionist posturing, the long-term consequences will not be positive for them.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Monday, 3 June 2013 at 11:06pm BST

Not 100% certain but 1832 is the passage of the Great Reform Act against tremendous opposition in the Lords; 1911 is a reference to the Parliament Act in response to persistent obstruction from the Lords on the budget and Home Rule for Ireland. I think in both instances there was a threat of simply creating more peers by the King to enable the relevant law to pass. In both cases the Lords (eventually) backed down.

In 1832 the Lords Spiritual voted en bloc against the bill - I'm not sure what they did in 1911.

That's so far as I can make sense of it.

Posted by: Craig Nelson on Monday, 3 June 2013 at 11:53pm BST

Slightly off topic, I note that this site was cited in the Lord's Library Note on this bill! Congrats.

See here: (bottom of page 2.

Posted by: andrewdb on Tuesday, 4 June 2013 at 12:33am BST

God is working his purpose out
as year succeeds to year:
God is working his purpose out,
and the time is drawing near;
nearer and nearer draws the time,
the time that shall surely be,
when the earth shall be filled
with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea.

Posted by: Jeremy on Tuesday, 4 June 2013 at 3:07am BST

Some wonderful speeches and some so anti-gay that it make one cry. But the anti-gay ones seemed so mean, narrow, out of touch, and pointless in mnsho.

Posted by: Laurence on Tuesday, 4 June 2013 at 7:11am BST
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Please note that comments are limited to 400 words. Comments that are longer than 400 words will not be approved.

Cookies are used to remember your personal information between visits to the site. This information is stored on your computer and used to refill the text boxes on your next visit. Any cookie is deleted if you select 'No'. By ticking 'Yes' you agree to this use of a cookie by this site. No third-party cookies are used, and cookies are not used for analytical, advertising, or other purposes.